The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Closed Chicago Schools on Developer's Radar: Residential, Retail Considered

 Jay Michael says his company Cedar Street is considering buying closed school buildings.   
Jay Michael says his company Cedar Street is considering buying closed school buildings.  
View Full Caption
Bravo TV

UPTOWN — Jay Michael of Flats Chicago says the real estate brand's parent company Cedar Street Co. has a list of closed public schools it's considering buying.

“We’re looking at a lot of the schools," Michael said, though adding, "we haven’t made any hard and fast decisions."

Chicago Public Schools closed 50 schools last year that officials determined were underutilized. The process was contentious and heart wrenching for many kids, parents and communities who fought the closings.

Michael, whose real estate brand Flats — depending on who's making the description — is either a savior of distressed apartment buildings or a force of gentrification that prices some people out of Uptown, acknowledged the school reuse issue as "quite a contentious matter." The buildings are now on the market in the aftermath of "families losing their schools," he said.

"Any CPS school that we are interested in, we're very upfront about what our interest is, and we've been talking to aldermen about what they feel their community wants," Michael said.

Michael said Cedar, a company he co-founded, has a list of five schools it's interested in buying.

Trumbull Elementary School is one of the schools on the company's list, as reported by DNAinfo Chicago last week.

Michael said he could envision Trumbull as a mixed-use building with multifamily housing, retail space and possibly space for a large nonprofit organization.

Michael was mum on the identities of the other four schools Cedar and Flats have considered buying.

"We’re definitely putting ourselves out there, definitely looking into the process and learning the community opinion for each of the schools, and learning the process for how they’re doing the dispositions," Michael said.

Some other ideas for using Trumbull, built by architect Dwight Perkins, include a distillery, senior housing complex and a charter school.

Cedar has already considered buying Graeme Elementary School, another Perkins building, according to Michael.

But Michael sounded doubtful about Cedar making any strong pursuit of it, saying that "it's a lot bigger than it looks, and it costs a lot of money to manage it."

"That’s the hardest one to determine what its best use is," Michael said. "I know it’s very easy for [community] organizers to kick and scream about how it should become a public space but they're not going to program it and operate it and maintain it, so that’s the bigger concern. ... I don’t know [who] the best user is for it, but whoever it is has to have a good plan. That's no easy task."

Ideas from the community about what to do with Stewart include a new school and community center, affordable and market-rate housing and a movie theater, among other ideas.

CPS is in the process of soliciting community input about what to do with the buildings ahead of issuing requests for proposals and opening the schools up to bids from potential buyers this summer and later this year.

Michael said Cedar was considering mixed-uses for most of the buildings the company had interest in, and that "some part of each of the assets would be multifamily [housing] and the other parts would be retail/commercial," or house a "social service partnership," depending on the size of the building and "desire from the community."

He emphasized that Cedar wasn't just limiting itself to North Side schools and was looking throughout the city.

With dozens of massive school buildings on the market — many of them nearly 100 or more years old like Trumbull and Stewart — this is an exciting time in the real estate community, said Richard Kahan, a partner and broker at KB Real Estate.

"I see it as an interesting situation for development people to come into and analyze," he said, predicting that some buildings would "stay as schools, maybe some charter schools."

Kahan figures most the buildings bought initially, the hotter items, will end up as offices or residential developments, with some retail uses as well.

He said he sees a huge market opportunity for reusing old school buildings as lofts and other residential concepts, and said that in most cases demolition costs for huge school buildings will force developers to think creatively and maintain structures.

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: